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Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Respawn Entertainment
Release Date: Nov. 15, 2019


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PS4 Review - 'Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order'

by Redmond Carolipio on Nov. 27, 2019 @ 12:30 a.m. PST

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is a third-person action adventure game that features an authentic story set shortly after the events of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, when the Jedi have fallen.

Buy Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

In the past decade or so, if you asked the typical Star Wars fan what he or she wanted in an action game, they probably gave you a variation of, "I just want to grab a lightsaber, use the Force and kick some ass."

You can do that and more in Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, a joyfully satisfying title from Respawn that bridges the vintage ethos of the Star Wars universe with well-crafted, modern gameplay ideas that might seem too safe and familiar for some, but still end up striking all the right notes. It's the kind of title that leaves one sad when the main story ends, but grateful for the experience.

At a glance, the Star Wars universe always seemed like the perfect place to find fields of serious third-person action experiences, but until Fallen Order, the most recent things that checked that box were The Force Unleashed games, which certainly delivered the chance to saber and Force your way to dominance, but also carried flaws that were impossible for die-hards and critics to ignore for it to be universally embraced … at least not in the way Super Star Wars was in 1992.

I remember playing that game on repeat as a teenager, mainly because it (and others, like Dark Forces and the Jedi Knight games of the 1990s) carried a, dare I say, Force-attuned kind of energy that seemed nearly impossible to replicate until Star Wars: Knights of The Old Republic came along in the early 2000s.

Respawn manages to rediscover and harness that energy by essentially giving people what they want. As Star Wars storytelling methods will feel familiar to its fans, so will many of Fallen Order's design choices.

It starts with a classic nobody-into-somebody protagonist: Cal Kestis, a former Jedi trainee who was forced to go into hiding when the infamous Order 66 — the command to betray and eliminate all Jedi — was enacted years ago, when Cal was barely a teen. Now a young man, Cal is making his incognito living as a scrap worker on a junkyard planet when, after some gameplay sequences to familiarize ourselves with the basic controls, he's forced — Forced? — to reveal some of his latent Jedi power to save a friend's life.

Then the Empire shows up in the form of squads led by the Second Sister, an Imperial Inquisitor who radiates villainous swagger. People are killed, Cal whips out his lightsaber, and it's off to the races with a breathtaking opening action sequence that involves taking down stormtroopers, using the Force to slow things down, running along a train and avoiding gunship fire, engaging in a short duel with the Second Sister and escaping on a ship after the train blows up. Cal eventually finds himself taking up a quest that spans several planets to follow the steps of a Jedi master to track down an artifact that could, in the master's words, rebuild the Jedi order.

With that classic quest arc as the backdrop, it's nearly impossible for veteran gamers not to notice how Fallen Order leans into the design winds left by other games to deliver its experience. Stig Asmussen, the game's director, worked on the God of War series and led its epic third chapter, and you can feel some of that influence throughout Fallen Order. I noticed it in how gradual and organic Cal's power and understanding seemed to grow as the weight of his journey increased. There were also some vintage zoom-outs to reveal the size of a tomb Cal was approaching or how small Cal was compared to a giant tree on the Wookiee homeworld as he climbed up one of its vines. I mentally call them "perspective checks," and when well-timed, they do an exquisite job of layering on atmosphere during gameplay.

When the time comes to fight, I used a mix of techniques that most experienced action players would pick up instantly. There are "normal" and "strong" attacks that can be blended into the occasional combination, and there are enemies of all shapes and sizes, including ones that require significantly more effort. If you're not warding off throngs of blaster-wielding Stormtroopers (and yes, you can absolutely deflect blaster shots back at them), you also might run into an AT-ST or a giant bat monster.

The quantity of enemies that come at you and the angles at which they attack and pursue Cal suggest that you can button-mash your way out, but that's not the case. I picked up a Sekiro/Dark Souls vibe from the hand-to-hand combat, where breaking your opponent's guard, parrying their strikes and finding opportune moments to land hits is the key to victory. This is especially true on higher difficulty settings, where you'll find yourself mentally mapping out how to best deploy your mix of saber skills and attainable Force powers. However, there were times that melee combat didn't feel quite as clean as Sekiro's, though its worlds more forgiving. It took me a few rounds to actually get used to letting go of the block button before attacking, and the timing of parrying with my button presses didn't always seem to click.

Those issues melted away when I started working with the Force. The Force and Fallen Order's use of it is one of the game's brightest points. In terms of combat, instead of having to worry about fighting three or four guys running at you, you might notice that they're all standing next to a cliff. If your Force Push is strong enough, one pull of the right trigger at the right time can treat you to the morbidly comical sight of Stormtroopers (or other enemies) flying off into oblivion and points suddenly filling up your XP meter. Conflict over, moving on. It's especially funny when you face an intimidating Imperial soldier with a staff who says something like, "Let's see what you've got!" only for you to Force-push him off a high ledge to his permanent end.

The Force can also work for intense duels. The only way I survived encounters with someone like the Second Sister is because I was able to use the Force to knock her off-balance or slow her down before she could cut loose with a nearly indefensible hurricane of strikes. As Cal progresses and explores worlds during the course of his journey, his connection to the Force increases. His skills and abilities can be attained and upgraded through meditation points that lead to a layered skill tree/XP setup. The meditation points also function as save points, and they come with a slight caveat: If you use the meditation points to heal, you also respawn all of the enemies you encountered (save for bosses) on the way there. Plan at your discretion.

However, the Force isn't just for fighting, as any good Jedi will tell you. While you'll find tinges of God of War and Sekiro/Souls in the combat, an even more significant dimension of the game is its Metroidvania/Tomb Raider-inspired exploration and puzzle work. Cal's journey takes him to several fleshed-out, explorable planets that feature networks of different paths that can lead you to your goal or simply to vistas like the dilapidated wreckage of a massive ship, or an abandoned workshop. You can take the Tomb Raider reference quite literally, as Cal's mission is to actually find and explore tombs of an ancient people, encountering some inventive traps along the way that require brain power and some creative use of the Force. Without spoiling anything (you should also feel my pain), some of these puzzles have some stumping power to them if you don't remember to take into account certain things like the elements and physics. One tomb will have you dealing with a lot of large, rollable balls in hard-to-reach spots. Do with that information as you wish.

Where I felt the presence of Metroidvania is in the amount of backtracking I was asked to do, not just for the sake of exploring and finding things, but also in just trying to make my way to certain highlighted points on my multidimensional, droid-provided holomap. That might be off-putting for some, but I actually expect backtracking in games that feature this style of exploration and discovery, especially when there are places that can't be accessed because one simply doesn't have the right skills or powers for it. In a nice bit of user-friendliness, the map has specific colors that can point you in the right direction: green means "you can do something here now," yellow means "you haven't checked this spot out," and red is "you have nothing for this yet." That's at least how I read it, and it worked out fine. However, there's no presence of a pointing arrow, glowing nav point or GPS-style minimap while you're running around, which means you'll have to get good at remembering paths and/or check the map constantly, which can get slightly annoying.

What was always fun for me in Fallen Order is watching the characters and their stories unfold. Star Wars experiences have always been fueled by likeable characters with a strong presence, and I couldn't help but be pulled in by everyone I encountered here. Cameron Monaghan, perhaps best known for his work as the Joker-esque Jerome Valeska on the "Gotham" TV show, feels born to play a Jedi with his performance here, giving Cal Kestis a sense of earnestness and reluctance without making him seem weak. He carries the strength and weariness of a survivor (his memories of Order 66 are horrifying) and eventually becomes quietly emboldened as he sorts out his place in his journey.

I just liked Cal at the end. I also enjoyed his endearing relationship with BD-1, a small, adorable droid he discovers on his path who ends up being one of the most important pieces of the story. It also helps that BD-1 has the holomap and can also heal Cal with stims when needed, but Cal also has moments when he just talks to BD-1 as a friend. There's a great exchange where he asks if BD-1 knows any jokes, and BD-1 responds with his droid-y beeps, making Cal chuckle and say, "Classic."

I also liked Debra Wilson's intensity and pain as Cere Junda, who rescues Cal at the start of the game and is discovered to be a former Jedi. Greez is the four-armed alien pilot of the Mantis, the ship that pulls Cal away to safety away from the Empire and hauls him all over the galaxy. Greez (Daniel Roebuck) supplies the blunt talk and humor with classic timing. What I didn't necessarily expect is how captivating the story of the game's villain, the Second Sister (Elizabeth Grullon), would end up being. She comes across as a classic Imperial evil person, but you'll end up learning there's more to her pain than simply existing on the other side. Together, these characters and the brilliant writing that accompanies them tell a story that isn't necessarily surprising but enthralling nonetheless and keeps you spellbound in that signature Star Wars fashion.

If there's one overarching issue I can point to, it's that it feels like Fallen Order could have been bigger. It's open-world up to a point where you're free to explore, but there aren't any side-quests, only the occasional undiscovered path and extra pieces of lore. Don't get me wrong; lore is cool, but you eventually find it all and notice there's isn't that much more to do when Cal's story concludes for the time being.

I would recommend Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order to anyone who's even remotely familiar with the universe. There are plenty of Easter eggs and geek-out stuff for the fans (you can build a custom lightsaber!), and the gameplay is less about reinvention and more about refining pieces to fit the experience, which is what a lot of great art is built upon. If anything, this game made me feel like I did back in the 1990s, when I truly felt the Force in the game space for the first time. It's a special feeling, and I look forward to seeing where this path goes.

Score: 8.8/10

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